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Drink driver behind serious Thai berry picker van crash, police say

The berry pickers were headed to work when an inebriated driver crashed head-on into their van, according to police.

Peräseinäjoen turmapaikka.
Officers inspect the area of the collision which took place on a stretch of road near Peräseinäjoki which has a speed limit of 60 km per hour. Image: Anne Elhaimer / Yle

Two people are reported to be in critical condition, and a number of others seriously injured, after a minibus carrying Thai berry pickers was involved in a high speed crash with another vehicle near Peräseinäjoki in the Southern Ostrobothnia region of western Finland.

According to police, 11 people were involved in the accident which occurred at approximately 5am on Tuesday on a stretch of road in the village of Kihniänkylä - including ten Thai workers in the minibus and the sole occupant of the passenger car, who needed to be cut out of the damaged vehicle.

Police suspect the driver of the car of traffic endangerment, causing bodily harm, and aggravated drunk driving.

Fire chief Kaj Ny of the Southern Ostrobothnian Rescue Service said the accident was a high-speed, head-on collision, and confirmed to Yle that all of the passengers on the minibus were Thai berry pickers.

"It's impossible to say what the real speed was, but probably about 60 to 80 kilometres per hour at least," Ny said.

Story continues after photo.

Peräseinäjoki kartalla.
The crash occurred in the village of Kihniänkylä, near Peräseinäjoki in Southern Ostrobothnia. Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

According to preliminary information from the police, the car was travelling from the town of Virrat towards the Puräseinäjoki river when it veered onto the wrong side of the road and crashed into the minibus, which was travelling in the opposite direction.

The most seriously injured were passengers in the minibus, police confirmed.

"The most important thing is that everyone survives"

The Thai workers involved in the accident were berry pickers hired by Polarica, and were on their way to today's picking location, according to Jukka Kristo, the CEO of the food company. Kristo added that he is shocked by what happened this morning.

"The most important thing is that everyone survives. That is the top priority for us right now,” Kristo commented.

Polarica has provided information on the identities of all the occupants of the minibus to the police, as well as to Seinäjoki Central Hospital.

Polarica has hired 580 pickers in Finland, of which 350 are currently working in the South Ostrobothnia area, while others are located in Lapland.

Two in critical condition

Field Manager Olli Laitala, of the Ostrobothnia Hospital District Emergency Services, told Yle that this was a very serious incident.

"In the context of the region of Southern Ostrobothnia, we are talking about a major accident," Laitala said.

Story continues after photo.

Seinäjoen keskussairaalan ensiapupäivystys
The injured have been taken to Seinäjoki Central Hospital for treatment. Image: Hans-Mikael Holmgren / Yle

Jouko Kähkönen, chief of the intensive care unit at Seinäjoki Central Hospital, confirmed that the injuries sustained by the two people in critical condition are life threatening.

"We have a couple of critically injured patients who are still in danger," he said.

The other nine people involved in the accident also suffered injuries, according to Kähkönen. Initially, it was investigated whether there was a need to transfer patients, but so far all of the victims have been treated at Seinäjoki Central Hospital. The hospital has handled the situation well, Kähkönen added.

Rescue units from the nearby municipalities of Jalasjärvi and Peräseinäjoki were called to the crash scene and a number of ambulances as well as a medical helicopter were also required. The minibus has since been removed from the scene.

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